The Collar Over The Lapel Was So '70s. What Was Up With That?

By | May 7, 2019

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Left: John Travolta as Tony Manero in 'Saturday Night Fever' (1977). Right: Jack Nicholson at a movie premiere on January 31, 1978. Source: IMDB; Ron Galella via Getty

It's the '70s men's fashion look that no one is talking about: the shirt collar worn over or outside the lapels of a jacket. Today we tackle this old style head-on: The collar outside the lapels, what was up with that?

'70s fashion goes beyond bell bottoms, platform shoes and polyester. In some ways, those are easy, costumey signifiers of '70s style -- the outrageous stuff we see in vintage photos of Studio 54 and disco nightclubs. The collar-over-the lapel look was one that became popular among celebrities and regular folks of all ages and fabulousness. John Travolta did it, the Bee Gees did it, Jack Nicholson did it, Lee Majors did it -- but so did the guy placing $2 bets at the horse track. These days, it's a cheesy throwback associated with gangsters and lounge lizards, but it was legit once upon a time. Surely this is a look that will never come back. Right? Don't be so sure. (And don't call us Shirley.)

It's Actually A Classic

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Left: Erroll Flynn. Right: Clark Gable with Rosalind Russell. Sources:; eBay

There is a historical precedent for the collar-over-lapels style. We see it in some old Hollywood pictures of icons like Errol Flynn and Clark Gable. We can't say whether the commoners were on board with this look, but for the glamorous and handsome, it was a flourish of some sort that didn't have the negative connotation it would later acquire. While men did sport the collar over the lapel look in the ‘30s, they sometimes paired it with a cravat (rather than necktie), which makes sense. To really show off that sweet cravat (hey, we all have one) you need to unbutton a couple buttons and pull that collar wide open. 

The collar-out move implies a dressed-down, after hours look -- perhaps the fellow has ditched the tie or cravat and is letting those collar points out as a signifier that he's done with his workday and he's ready to get casual while remaining stylish. This is a theme that will recur. The suit and tie says "It's good to meet you, Mr. Jones, let us discuss business." The tie-less, collar outside style says "Whew, that Jones guy was a drag -- let's party."